Saturday’s WA state election was the ultimate reality check for Pauline Hanson and her potency as an agent for disruption in Australian politics.
As Labor leader Mark McGowan said after his party’s landslide win: “It was a victory for decency and intelligence over stupidity and ignorance.”
And it was all the more remarkable because Western Australia has been a conservative bastion at the state and federal level for more than a decade.
It is no wonder the West Australian division of the Liberal Party was spooked by Ms Hanson. It has been steadily moving to the hard right for years. The fact that its powerbrokers could not see the dangers for them being seen “getting into bed with Hanson” is no surprise.
They have the delusional belief that she is their heartland. Saturday proved decisively she is not. A primary vote of 4.7 per cent for One Nation at the close of counting is testimony to that. Their “heartland” flocked to Labor which was led by a moderate centrist.
Surely this is a huge amber light for delusional conservatives everywhere.
It is also an explanation why handcuffing Malcolm Turnbull to the hard right agenda bequeathed by Tony Abbott is failing so miserably. Success is in the centre. A rump of five per cent or even 15, if One Nation ever realises that, is not the pathway to electoral success and certainly doesn’t represent the “silent majority”. In the “only poll that counts” the silent majority votes in the booths.
The biggest takeout of the election result as far as national politics is concerned is that Ms Hanson is no Donald Trump.
Somehow he thrives on contradicting himself, denying reality while creating his own, thumbing his nose at ordinary decencies and presiding over administrative chaos.
Pauline Hanson is not so lucky.
Unlike Mr Trump she has not survived the close scrutiny of the final days of the election campaign. As Labor’s Anthony Albanese says, “the mob has worked her out”. And this could be fatal for Ms Hanson.
Former Labor national and WA state secretary Bob McMullan says the result could be a turning point for her. Rather than lay a foundation to build on, it has left a crater.
Not that she is aware of it. Her rock star reception on the trail in Perth and elsewhere in WA confused celebrity with credibility. If she had anything going for her it was as a protest vehicle for resentment and disillusionment with the system.
But her claims that both the major parties were as bad as each other was undermined by her formal deal with one of them. As soon as she did that she had joined the club and on her own admission her supporters felt betrayed.
This is something Labor research is finding in Queensland. Ms Hanson now says she will have to reappraise her approach. So too will the Liberals. But on Sunday morning one of the architects of the preference deal, right wing powerbroker Mathias Cormann, refused to rule out a repeat at the federal level.
Wiser and older heads, like veteran Liberal backbencher Russell Broadbent and former Queensland Nationals war horse Ron Boswell, say a preference-last strategy is in the long run the only real choice for the Coalition.
Helping One Nation candidates to be elected to Parliament only entrenches the brand at the Liberals’ and Nationals’ expense. If, as appears likely, One Nation does get into the WA Upper House, it will have benefitted more than the Liberals from the deal.
Federal Liberals like Mr Cormann console themselves that the ‘it’s time’ factor was decisive against the state party.
No doubt it played a part, but a swing of this size, historic in its proportions, needs more than the clock to explain it.
The pity for Malcolm Turnbull is his colleagues in the west saw him more as a hindrance than a help. That, too, is a reality check for the federal Coalition.
Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics. He tweets at @PaulBongiorno